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The Blogerati Files: easternblot.net

This week in the Blogerati Files, easternblot.net .

Describe your blog in 10 words or less.
It's (not) all about science.

Why did you start blogging? What's your blog's birthday?
I used to have a manually updated journal for friends when I spent four months doing research in Quebec city. That was way back in 2000, when I was still studying in Amsterdam. After that I had a personal blog from May 2001 to May 2006. I shut it down on its fifth birthday, because I wanted to focus more on my current blog, and because I felt that people were really considering everything I wrote as the main thing going on in my life (see Sims under question 11) which it never was. That's one reason why I stopped talking about myself, and switched to science.

I started the science blog as a blog in February 2005, but I originally registered the domain easternblot.net as early as 2002 for the purpose of creating a science-related site. (See final question for etymology)

I started easternblot because I got frustrated with people thinking of science as something alien and difficult, while it's actually so common. Food, sports, social interactions, and movies all have some science behind them that we just don't tend to think of as "science". I wanted to give the science of daily life some attention, especially for people who claim they don't like or understand science. At the same time, a lot of art is science-inspired, and I also write about that.

How long have you lived in Toronto?
I moved here from Holland in late August 2002, to start a PhD in Biochemistry. (Yes, it's been almost five years, and no, I'm not done yet.)

What's the funniest/strangest thing that has happened to you in Toronto? Did you blog about it?
I worked in a SickKids lab during SARS, and we had to go through daily screening procedures for a few months. At the beginning we had our temperature taken every morning. And every time we went outside and came back (even for lunch), we had to fill out a form stating that we hadn't been to China just then. We weren't allowed to be in the same lecture room as people from other hospitals, but the Biochemisty department has labs in several hospitals, so all our seminars were postponed for a few weeks, bleeding into our summer seminar-break (we don't get vacation -- we just don't have seminars for a while and that's "summer"). The whole hospital district was affected, even if there were no SARS patients, and there were a lot of weird little things like that that a lot of people didn't get to experience.

I think I did blog about it, but that blog is gone now. I saved all my old entrance passes from that time (we got a new one every day) as well as the screening form and some e-mails, because it was a pretty crazy time. I'm also fascinated with network science, which includes spread of epidemics, so all these measures that limited the spread of SARS intrigued me a lot.

What are some of the changes in Toronto that you have seen in your lifetime?
In the short time I've been here, I've seen so many new buildings pop up, and a few unintentionally fall down (the Uptown). TTC prices went up by at least 50 cents per ride, we're now returning liquor bottles and recycling tubs and lids, almost every other shop or restaurant in my neighbourhood (The Annex) changed ownership several times. I feel like I've lived here forever!

What era, day or event in Toronto's history would you like to re-live and why?
I was visiting my family in Holland during the blackout, and was so bummed that I missed it! It was breaking news on TV there, interrupting regular programming. I immediately called my lab, and they didn't even realize yet that it had affected such a large area. When I came home a few days later, everyone had all these exciting stories about parties with neighbours, being able to see the stars at night, forty degree temperatures without airco, and spoilt food. All I got was a delayed flight back to Toronto. I would have loved to have been here and experience all the craziness first-hand. It seemed like such a good reminder of how incredibly dependent we are on electricity.

Who's your favourite Torontonian?
My friends. I know that's not an interesting answer, but it covers a lot of interesting people!

Do you have a favourite free WiFi spot?
My laptop is always coughing and choking lately, and I have to hook it up with an old school PC-slot wireless card, so I try not to drag it out too much. I'm thinking of getting a Macbook this year, so I could use some free WiFi ideas!

Do you have a favourite post from your blog? Do you know your blog's most visited post?
Musical Scientists and the recent Facebook network post are my favourites at the moment. The first one is about the seemingly odd, but very common overlap between scientists and musicians. The Facebook post is an example of something everyone understands, but not so obviously science-related until it's pointed out.

A few times posts in which I've linked to other sites have been inspiration for BoingBoing to link to those same sites and I got a "via" link, which must have been my most visited posts, but they were just "Hey, look at this" posts.

I had some attention with an article I wrote about science blogging, but the article itself wasn't on my blog. Many people found it through there, though.

Have you had your 15 minutes yet?
I don't know. I seem to generally go under the radar with a few peaks of minor recognition from select people. If those were my fifteen minutes, they were not fifteen consecutive minutes, and the fame was also severely overrated. But then again, I bet all fame is overrated.

Ever met a stranger who already knew you through your blog? If so, how did it go?
Pre-science blog I've met people who knew my Sims through my blog. I later summarized the Sims story in a YouTube video (http://youtube.com/watch?v=wcbxvvn8kmg ) after I quit that blog.

With the science blog I never got recognized at all until I went to the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference earlier this year. But those were all people involved in science communication as well. I would love to run into people from outside science who know my blog, because those are the people I want to reach.

Who are your favourite blogger(s)?
I'm going to make that "blogs" instead of "bloggers", because I don't actually know all these people (only a few).

Inkycircus, Drawn!, 3 Quarks Daily, Print and Pattern, Treehugger, Izzle Pfaff.

As far as I know only one of these is partially in Toronto, and only three of them are science related, but I need and read them all!

What's happening in Toronto right now that the rest of us should be watching?
HotDocs is coming up! I've seen some great documentaries there over the years, and I'm looking forward to this year!

And of course I should point out that Toronto is host to some regular, free, science related events for a general audience: there's Cafe Scientifique once a month at the Rivoli. It's a casual coffee house setting where you get to discuss scientific topics with expert guests who you might not normally get to chat with. Last Saturday the place was packed! And the Royal Canadian Institute hosts weekly Sunday afternoon lectures in fall and winter for the public on a range of different topics. The season just ended, but they should be back in October, so keep an eye out for that!

If your blog were a food, what food would it be?
Salt.

There's usually salt in food, even when you don't think about it (you'll notice it when you forget to add it!), just like there's a little bit of science in everything, even when you don't immediately consider it -- and that's what easternblot is trying to show. Nobody would ever say that salt is their favourite food, but you both need and like it!

Speaking of food, do you have a favourite Toronto lunch spot?
I don't really take time to lunch elaborately, but I love people watching and drinking coffee at Future's Bakery.

If you could gather all of the bloggers of the world together into one room and tell them one thing, what would it be?
No one cares about your blog!

But I wouldn't say it -- I would just wear this subtle T-shirt again.

Have any advice for would be bloggers? What do you think is the best route to raise a blog's profile?
1. Assume that everything you write will be on the 'net forever and can and will be found by everyone, including your parents, (future) employers, (future) children, and all their gossiping friends.

2. The best way to raise a blog's profile is to have an interesting blog! Pick a niche: write about one topic that you know a lot about, and be consistent. Don't suddenly add a post about your cat if you always write about tennis. Only write about yourself if you're either a very good writer or lead a very interesting life.

Anything else you'd like to add?
The name of my blog has nothing to do with the former Eastern Bloc. I get that a lot, and didn't even realize that it could be associated with it at all.

Instead, it's a biochemical joke. There is a technique called Southern Blot, which is a way to label and detect specific DNA fragments. It was invented by a certain Mr. Southern. Later, his technique was adapted to also work for RNA. That new procedure was called Northern Blot.

When the same method was used to detect proteins, it became Western Blot. There is no other molecule in the group of DNA/RNA/protein, so there is no method that could ever logically be called Eastern Blot.


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